Higher Ambitions for Freedom: The Politics of Public Black Colleges in the South, 1865-1915
Leigh Soares

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

This dissertation explains how, during the onslaught of racial violence and disenfranchisement in the late nineteenth-century South, black men and women used public black colleges to retain limited access to political power and to train future leaders. It takes seriously African Americans’ turn to state governments for support in the late 1800s, examining why public education was an issue that could garner at least some interracial cooperation. Moreover, it illuminates the strategies black politicians and educators boldly used to claim public funds and recognition in an era of vulnerable freedoms. Archival research across eight different states and numerous digital collections has helped shape the project. By asserting the role of public black colleges in institutionalizing black claims to citizenship and democratizing higher education in the South, this dissertation underscores the significance of historically black colleges and universities in American life. It makes contributions to African American history, education history, and southern U.S. history.
About Leigh Soares
Leigh Alexandra Soares is a doctoral candidate in History at Northwestern University, with a certificate in African American and Diaspora Studies. Her research interests include black politics and institution building in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Her dissertation uses a wide range of archival evidence to examine how black leaders and their allies won and maintained support for public black colleges in the post-Civil War South. In addition to her passion for research, she is committed to promoting excellent teaching in her discipline and has been named a 2017-2018 Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern. Prior to moving to Chicago, Leigh received an AB (History) from Duke University and an MA (History) from the College of William and Mary.

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